Think tank report outlines steps NATO needs to take to defend Baltics ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

U.S. tanks and armored fighting vehicles arriving in Lithuania. Photo is illustrative.
U.S. tanks and armored fighting vehicles arriving in Lithuania. Photo is illustrative. Source: AFP/Scanpix

In the event of an attack by Russia, the U.S. would have a central role to play in the defense of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and only the U.S. is capable of ensuring the rapid deployment of forces, cooperation capabilities and readiness issues that as of yet remain unresolved for NATO's European allies, according to a report issued by U.S. think tank The Jamestown Foundation.

The report, titled "How to Defend the Baltic States" (link to PDF) examines opportunities for building up sufficient deterrence in the three Baltic countries, and, in the event that this deterrence fails, organizing the necessary warfare to drive the attacker out of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Thus far, the U.S. has not done enough to strengthen deterrence and defense on NATO's eastern flank or to encourage allies there to strengthen their own defense as called for in the U.S.' national security strategy in 2017, report author Richard D. Hooker writes.

Last year, the U.S. allocated three times more financial aid to Rwanda than to any one Baltic country, and practically none of the $15 billion (USD) allocated by the U.S. to the European deterrence initiative reached the Baltic countries. The defense of NATO's eastern flank may be one of the most urgent national security matters, the author of the report finds.

To strengthen the Baltics, the U.S. could, for example, hand over the armored equipment already currently stored there, including M1A1 tanks, similarly to how the U.S. gave 162 tanks to Morocco, Hooker added.

The report also calls on the Baltic states to contribute more to their own defense as well, however.

In case of war, Kaliningrad must be neutralized

According to the conventional warfare scenario described in the report, in which war breaks out following an attack by Russia, Moscow needs seven to ten days to launch an offensive. At the same time, referring to several earlier assessments, it is noted that Russian units only need a few days to capture the three countries.

Nonetheless, in describing the possible defense of Estonia, the report describes how enemy forces approaching from the direction of Narva could be halted by Rakvere, or from the south near Tartu. "Some territory in the east may be lost, but retaining control of the capital is likely," the overview of Estonia notes.

The document stresses the importance of defense and deterrence activities to precede the attack, as well as describes which European-based U.S. units should be relocated to the Baltics.

According to the scenario described in the report, NATO forces should be capable of destroying Russia's Kaliningrad-based anti-aircraft capabilities by the 14th day after the conflict breaks out, following which allies can utilize their air supremacy and begin to more extensively move their units into the region. Polish and U.S. units must enter the Russian exclave as soon as the conflict breaks out, the report stresses.

After taking Kaliningrad, allied troops must also gain superiority on the Baltic Sea, at which point they will be capable of driving the warships of Russia's Baltic Fleet to St. Petersburg.

Deterrence cheaper than strike back

According to the report, the first priority should be to develop the Baltic countries' own respective defense capabilities, but at the same time improve the speed and quality of moving in additional allied forces.

In order to do so, a comprehensive action plan will need to be drawn up and U.S. and NATO support thereof ensured. The cost of necessary preparations for deterrence is not that great, the author of the report finds, especially considering NATO's great wealth, and the fact that the alternative is significantly more ominous.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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